College football: Chi-Hi graduate Meyer's decision to kick at UW-Stout proves mutually beneficial

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Sep. 17—MENOMONIE — When Clayt Birmingham's first phone call to Jack Meyer went unanswered, he understood. But the longtime UW-Stout football coach wasn't deterred.

With a leg like Meyer's, a spot as a college football team's kicker was a sure thing. As one of the state's top specialists, the Chippewa Falls standout was certain to have some options at the next level — maybe, Meyer hoped, even at a high level. So the fact that Birmingham's call didn't immediately make waves was perhaps to be expected.

"At first he wouldn't talk to me," Birmingham said with a laugh, "knowing that he was getting interest from higher levels."

But the Blue Devils had a unique situation to offer in their recruiting pitch that the average college team didn't. They had a vacancy at kicker and punter, meaning whichever player came in could be the starter from Day 1. So Birminghman stayed persistent with his sights set on the star playing right in Stout's backyard.

"Eventually I reached out to Jack again and said 'I just want to talk to you. You don't have to come to Stout, but I just want to talk to you,'" he said. "I told him that he had the potential to come in here and be the man right away as a freshman."

Birmingham's perseverance paid off. The sales pitch was exactly what Meyer was looking for after scholarship options for kickers at bigger schools proved limited. He committed to the Blue Devils, and the promise quickly came true.

Meyer has slotted right in as Stout's specialist this season, and it's already paying dividends. Even as a freshman, his leg is one of the top special teams weapons in the WIAC. He was the conference's special teams player of the week for Week 2 after hitting field goals of 46 and 52 yards against St. Norbert on Saturday.

That kind of opportunity to showcase his ability is what drew the Chi-Hi graduate to the Blue Devils.

"This is the place for me," Meyer said. "That was definitely one of the deciding factors, was just being able to get to play right away. I wasn't really interested in going to a school and sitting on the bench, not playing. So I really liked that I could come in and do my thing, benefit the team right away."

Despite only beginning competitive kicking a few years ago, Meyer has learned the ropes quickly. After years of playing soccer, he tried out the position between his sophomore and junior years of high school, and a couple of years later he was named a finalist for the state's top senior kicker/punter award by WisSports.net.

"I basically was out kicking on the field and word got around to the football coach, and he told me I should play," Meyer said. "I was just like, 'OK,' and got started."

Nate Custer, a fellow Chi-Hi alumnus who now kicks at UW-Whitewater, took Meyer under his wing and taught the newcomer the ropes. Things only accelerated from there.

Meyer threw himself into the craft. He made his way to camps and kicking competitions wherever he could. His resume kept building, and he started getting noticed as a possible college prospect.

"I kind of started taking it more seriously than I ever thought I would," Meyer said. "And now the next thing I know, I'm playing college football."

He's not just playing, either. He's making headlines. In practice, the Blue Devils have seen him make a 67-yard field goal. On game day, he's three-for-three on field goal attempts, has made seven of nine extra points and averages 37 yards per punt.

"We're fortunate to have him," Birmingham said. "He's got a big leg, and he has not even hit his top end yet. He's kicked some long ones, and in practice we've seen him go even farther than that. He's got a leg, that's for sure."

Meyer said the mental aspect of kicking is what separates the average from the great. It's a position that can bring tremendous pressure and, usually, the occasional failure. A kicker's response is what sets them apart.

Birmingham has already seen Meyer overcome some subtle adversity as he's gotten up to speed at the college level.

"You usually don't see someone this young make a difference like that at any position," Birmingham said. "Usually it takes a year or two for a kid to get up to where he needs to be at any position. But kicker's a little bit different in that if you've got the technique down and you've got a big leg, it's a little more simple.

"The biggest worry we had for him was his operation time. In high school, you can be a little bit slower, so it took him a little bit to make that adjustment and speed up his tempo. But he adapted real quick and he's doing a great job for us so far."

Given his young age, Meyer will have plenty of time to see how far he can push himself. There are always things to work on, he said, and he plans to do so.

"I'm still really raw, especially in my form," he said. "There's a lot of work to do, a lot of refining. You've just got to keep your nose on the grindstone and keep going."

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